Mad Men: Fat Betty

Fans of the show were wondering how Mad Men would handle January Jones' pregnancy. Would Betty stand behind a lot of flower arrangements or carry large bags? No, actually. They covered it up alright—but with a fat suit. Suddenly, the one-dimensional Mrs. Francis just got a lot more interesting.

The episode opens with Sally struggling with the zipper on Betty's dress, which simply won't close. (In stark contrast, we watch another scene in which Don zips up his new wife's dress with the greatest of ease, perhaps symbolic of how difficult everything with Betty is.) Betty, a former model, has always been vain and concious of her figure. How many nights did she watch everyone else eat dinner while she chain smoked and sipped red wine? Her identity had always been wrapped up in being beautiful, and it's obvious now that she doesn't feel it. She's been groomed her entire life to be arm candy. She could really use some inner beauty right now, but she never had the need before this to develop any. Too embarrassed about her appearance, she skips out on going to a Junior League event with her husband Henry.

What could've happened that caused such a drastic physical change? Well, we get a hint when we see Betty sitting on the couch watching TV in her robe in the middle of the day in the midst of a Bugles snack attack. It would seem that Betty is going through something of a Liz Taylor situation: With her glamorous life and good looking ex-husband in her past, she married a politician and is just tired of it all. Considering how she's talked to her daughter Sally in the past, Betty's no doubt been dieting since she was a young girl. She's been hungry for the past 25 years! And what has it gotten her? Certainly not the happy ending she'd been led to believe she was entitled to. So she started eating. And apparently didn't stop. Just then, her imposing mother-in-law shows up to try to snap her out of her haze making it clear that she doesn't particularly like Betty but that she understands what's going on: "You get comfortable and you give up a little bit and then it gets out of control." She also understands that Betty always relied upon her looks and just doesn't have the shining personality to pull off this weight gain. She implores Betty to seek out a prescription for diet pills.

The doctor she visits only says things that Betty doesn't want to hear. He calls her "middle aged," implies that she's unhappy, and then discovers a lump on her thyroid. Upon hearing the news, a frazzled Betty hurries home to tell Henry, but when she couldn't find him she called Don. When he asked her about the children, it becomes clear that Betty hadn't even thought about them until that moment. It's another symptom of her selfishness and childishness. But all she wants is for Don to bullshit her.

"Say what you always say," she demands.
"Everything's going to be OK," he answers.

For someone who'd been so upset about Don's lies when they were married, she seems to crave them now. It's obvious that it wasn't the lies that broke up their marriage, but the truth. Betty doesn't like the truth and she'd rather not hear it. Don was the perfect person to turn to in this situation.

But if she does have cancer, she's going to have to deal with its harsh reality. Confronted with death, Betty has to face her own life, the choices she's made, the people she's affected. That takes maturity, something Betty doesn't have much of. But maybe this could change her?

When she goes to have her lump biopsied, Betty runs into an old friend at the specialist's office. The friend doesn't immediately recognize her because of the weight gain, which—if you've ever had the misfortune to be in such a predicament—is the worst. It's just so embarrassing and it knocks you down a few pegs. They go out for some lunch and have a heart-to-heart about dealing with a life-threatening disease. Betty expresses her fear about dying. She's not concerned with how her children will fare in her absence but rather, how she'll be remembered, thinking no one will speak kindly about her to them. A fortune teller approaches them and offers to read Betty's tea leaves. She tells her, "You are great soul. You mean so much to the people around you. You're a rock." Betty starts crying because she knows that none of it is true.

It must've had an effect on her, though, because Betty seems to start appreciating her life a little more. She has sex with her husband again for the first time in a long time, and she's seen sniffing baby Gene's hair, taking it all in and actually enjoying spending time with her children.

But then Betty learns that her tumor was benign. You'd think she'd be happy but even when getting news that she's cancer-free she just sees the glass as half full. "It's nice to be put through the wringer to find out I'm just fat."

Henry tries to make her feel better by telling her, "I don't know how many ways to tell you, but I don't see it."

She responds, "I know. Your mother's obese."

And there you have it. Betty is back to her sharp-tongued self. She doesn't even have the courtesy to call Don and let him know the results of her test, to put an end to his worrying. It doesn't seem like this has been her "Scrooge seeing his tombstone" experience. Although she does seem to be a little nicer to Sally, as they eat ice cream sundaes together in the kitchen—but Betty eats Sally's leftovers, proving that she's still eating her feelings.

Betty's been horrible at times, and maybe we're supposed to take delight in her humiliation as a fat girl. Instead, I hope that this adds more depth to her character. So much of her storyline in this episode felt so real. I don't think I've ever seen the complicated emotions that come with a woman's unwanted weight-gain handled so elegantly on television before. It would be a shame if the writers just let her slip back into being that same old icy blonde.